The court, which was backed by the United Nations, considered crimes committed while the Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979. It convicted Nuon Chea, 88, former Communist Party deputy, and Khieu Samphan, 83, former president of Kampuchea, of crimes against humanity, extermination, murder, political persecution, forced disappearance and other similar crimes. Each received a life sentence.
The men were leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime, which was responsible for a ruthless campaign of social engineering policy in Cambodia. It was estimated that 1.7 million people -- roughly a quarter of the country's population -- died by execution, forced labor or starvation.
Approximately 3,500 victims were involved in the trial as witnesses and as those seeking reparations. Until Thursday, the judicial body, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, had returned only one verdict in its eight years of existence -- a life imprisonment sentence against Kaing Guek Eav, commandant of a Phnom Penh's Tuol Sleng prison, in which over 14,000 people died.
Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan were arrested in 2007 and have been in custody since. They sat expressionless in court as the verdicts and sentences were read.